Class Prompt: Engaging the senses

In fall 2021 I taught a “World Design” class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

One of the ways to create a sense of place and make environments more memorable is to engage more of the player’s senses. As game creators we don’t always have a lot of avenues to do this! We can’t actually provide smells, for instance. If you’re working on a pen and paper game, as some of you are, you may not have direct access to ANY of the player’s senses, and need to instead evoke them with words.

So some useful angles to look at this from: 

  • We have a lot more than the mere 5 senses that Aristotle identified. Depending on the framework used, we as humans may have up to 55 unique sense receptors. So it’s never as simple as just “engaging the sense of hearing”, or “sight”. This website I found with a quick search has an interesting breakdown.
  • We can evoke sensations in players’ minds through association, memory, or description, which can be prompted in all sorts of ways. 
  • People’s minds process and understand sensory information differently. People with aphantasia may not react as strongly to written description, whereas it may be all that’s ever needed for people with hyperphantasia. People with synesthesia may associate senses in wildly different ways than we expect.  
(more…)

What is “World Design”?

I’m teaching a college course, “Advanced Seminar in Game Design: World Design” for Champlain College’s 2021 Fall semester. It’s a class for seniors to propose and execute on a single solo project for their portfolio, loosely based on the course theme. This document was my definition of “World Design”, with many examples.

Overview

The theme of this class is “World Design”, a subset of Game Design. The goal of this document is to explain what that means!

“World Design” is nebulously defined. Some companies have “World Designer” as a job title, but they don’t necessarily describe the same job. I’ve seen it used to describe traditional mission or level design work, designing vast non-linear spaces in open world games, and even the design of systems or UI related to the game world. So we will use a very broad definition in this class.

If Game Design is…

… The act of making choices about how players perceive or interact with a game, with the goal of creating a specific experience for the player(s).

Then World Design is…

…The act of making choices about how players will perceive, interact with, or experience the world of a game, with a particular focus on navigation, traversal, pacing, and narrative.

(more…)

Design Docs: IC Character Case Studies

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

Previously I shared a bunch of character specs from Infinite Crisis. These were finalized spec documents, representing the end point of a long iterative design process before production on the character began in earnest. This time let’s look at some of the documents that I wrote as part of that design process.

(more…)

Design Docs: IC Tooltips

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

From 2012-2014 I worked on a DC Comics MOBA called Infinite Crisis. I was one of the Champion Designers: our team was responsible for designing the character abilities and overall balance. I ended up as the tooltip guru: I cared a lot about their conventions and the way we used language and keywords. I have a small collection of documents related to this work!

(more…)

Design Docs: IC Character Specs

I recently posted a challenge to game designers to share more of their documentation, so academia had more examples to learn from. And then I posted an Outline of Game Documentation, with some high level descriptions of different types of game design documents. Time for me to share some!

From 2012-2014 I worked on a DC Comics MOBA called Infinite Crisis. I was one of the Champion Designers: our team was responsible for designing the character abilities and overall balance. Generally, a given character would be owned by a single designer from start to finish, and over months of design iteration (which I’ll cover in another post), we’d eventually reach a state where we were confident in the design we were going to make. At that point the designer would write their first draft of the complete “Character Spec” document.

(more…)

Common Game Design Documents

In a recent twitter thread, I posted a general challenge to professional game designers to share more of their game design documentation. The goal: give academia more examples to learn from. I’d better put my money where my mouth is!

But first, I wanted to share some general thoughts about project documentation, and examples of common documentation archetypes.

The Monolithic Game Design Document (GDD)

When I was in school my professors spent a lot of time teaching how to write formal game design documents (GDDs), stressing their importance. These were single monolithic documents that supposedly captured every detail of a game’s design. In theory the entire team would read the GDD, refer to it often, and trust it to have any answer they might need. They would set and communicate both creative and art direction!

(more…)

Class Prompt: Enforcing Content Conventions

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

As game designers, you’re used to thinking about games as systems of rules. You may know rules as things that are enforced by game systems via constraints and affordances: a game is hard-coded to allow this action, but not that action. Voilà, a possibility space is defined!

But many rules are NOT enforced by code or systems, and are instead conventions, patterns, or best practices that the developers stick to when building content. Let’s look at some examples.

(more…)

Class Prompt: The Art of Closing

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

With the end of our semester fast approaching, let’s talk about “closing” this week!

I use the term “closing” for a set of related things:

  1. The final stage of a project or milestone, where you’re trying to take it over the finish line.
  2. The skills that one uses during that final stage.
  3. The mindset of wanting to close: not leaving loose ends, wrapping up work in a finished state and moving on.
(more…)

Class Prompt: High vs Low Granularity

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

Let’s talk about high vs low granularity in game design, which has always been one of my favorite topics. From Wikipedia: “Granularity refers to the extent to which a material or system is composed of distinguishable pieces”.

In the context of game design, many things can be either high or low granularity, such as:

  • Space:
    • Low granularity: Tic-tac-toe, Megaman Battle Network, anything with placement on a small grid.
    • High granularity: Fully 3D games with movement on all axes.
(more…)

Class Prompt: Diminishing Returns in Content

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

Let’s talk about a problem that plagues live service games. If your game relies on releasing MORE content in pre-existing categories – characters in League of Legends or Overwatch, exotics in Destiny, new cards in Magic: The Gathering – then there are two fundamental design problems you need to solve:

  1. Diminishing Returns: How do you make content that is as exciting on the Nth update as it was on the first update? How can your 50th piece of content compete with all 49 previous pieces?
  2. Narrowing Design Space: How do you leave room for each new thing to feel unique and different over time?

These two problems are closely related, and designers must be careful because solving one of these can make the other worse.

(more…)

Class Prompt: Prioritization

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

This week let’s talk about an important skill: Prioritization.

In a large studio environment, the ability to prioritize – triage – every task or problem that comes your way is crucial, especially if you’re in a role where you may be randomized or need to react to sudden pivots, changes, or requests.

Let’s do some quick vocabulary. These are all terms that we use at Bungie. I can’t promise that they use these same definitions everywhere, but they’ll help us talk about these concepts:

(more…)

Class Prompt: The Technical Game Design Role

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

“Technical game designer” as a role in the industry is hard to pin down. I’ve known people with that title who solely build tools, and others who never touch code or tools and instead build content. Ask around, and every tech designer will give you a slightly different definition for the role. Here’s mine.

“Technical Game Design” is a subset of Game Design as a discipline. There are two features that set the role apart:

(more…)